What is a Social Entrepreneur?
Defining the term ‘social entrepreneur ‘ is no easy task. Simply put, social entrepreneurs are those who identify social issues and use enterprise to help solve those issues. Social entrepreneurs act as agents of change and transformation for whatever problem they are trying to solve. This definition is clearly broad and open to interpretation.
Social entrepreneurship sounds a lot like non-profit work, but the two are actually quite different. Typical non-profits focus on immediate efforts, often taking on the task of disaster relief or providing immediate aid to those in need. Social entrepreneurship, on the other hand, involves trying to create long-term change, such as creating work opportunities for women in third-world countries to help eliminate poverty. Social entrepreneurship is not limited to the non-profit world; many for-profit ventures exist as well.
Famous Social Entrepreneurs
What, exactly, a social entrepreneur does is perhaps best illustrated by some of today’s most well-known social entrepreneurs. The founding father of microfinance, Muhammad Yunus, started Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1976. Yunus was teaching economics when a terrible famine hit the region, leaving people starving to death in the streets. His solution was to provide collateral-free microloans to the very poorest people in the area, allowing the poor to fund their own small businesses and stop the cycle of poverty. The result has been nothing short of incredible; with $4.7 billion dollars provided to 4.4 million families in Bangladesh, Yunus has kept millions of people out of poverty. Today more than 250 other institutions follow the same mico-lending model.
A second notable social entrepreneur is Mimi Silbert, founder of the Delancey Street Foundation. Delancey Street rehabilitates former felons and drug addicts and teaches them to live productive and crime-free lives. Everyone who enters Delancey Street spends up to four years in the facility earning at least a high school diploma and training for a particular occupation. Delancey Street is 65% funded by the businesses operated by its graduates, including Delancey Street Moving Company and Delancey Street Restaurant. By taking former criminals off the street and giving them a fresh start, Mimi Silbert helps to end the cycle of crime that can often last a lifetime.
Interested in Becoming a Social Entrepreneur?
If you are interested in learning more about social entrepreneurship, many colleges now offer both undergraduate and graduate studies in the area. Check the colleges near you to see if any courses are offered.
Don’t want to head back to school? If you have a way to solve a social problem, you can start your own social enterprise at any time. Starting a social enterprise will vary in complexity depending on the task at hand, non-profit or for-profit status, and funding. Seek the guidance of friends, business professionals and fellow social entrepreneurs, and you could be on your way to changing the world in no time.